I have a confession to make. I love to rant. I drive and listen to right wing political pundits on talradio and shout, and I mean shout, back at them. I've been known to use an expletive or two, even when my teenaged children are in the car. My kids just roll their eyes at their crazy dad. As the years have progressed, though, I've noticed they also ask questions, really good critical questions.
The challenge is to decide how much we encourage our children to be free thinkers and how much we force them to think like us. In Winnipeg, two parents who self-identified as Nazis drew swastikas on their 7-year-old child's arm and sent her to school. I'm not sure that was a good idea, nor did Child Protection Services which apprehended the children.
But what about talking to our children about the Tea Party, Occupy Wall Street, Arab Spring, the Keystone Pipeline and the failed war on drugs? Developmentally, our children tend be easily convinced of what to believe earlier in their lives. That's good if you're trying to teach them to not hit their younger brother, but it is not so great if you want to raise a critically aware global citizen. That takes humility on a parent's part. It means sometimes we have to let our kids tell us why we're wrong and the idiot on the radio (my words) has a good point to make.
For me, the issue isn't about indoctrination, but about encouraging critical thinking. In my book, We Generation: Raising Socially Responsible Kids, I offer lots of strategies to help parents raise kids who can think through problems. After all, our kids actually want to be connected and a part of our worlds. They may not tell us so, but they are actually listening when we speak with the wisdom of years. It's just that developmentally, they go through phases which means they aren't necessarily ready to behave like we want them to behave.
As I discuss in my book, our children become more and more ready to talk with us about politics as they grow up:
Does this work? If we help kids learn to think, will they become critically aware citizens? I think so. My son is on an exchange program in Nicaragua. We Skyped a few days ago and he told me about the elections that just happened and the street violence that followed. The home where he was staying was also attacked, the front door smashed in by rocks the size of backpacks. He was shocked, frightened, but terribly interested in why our elections here at home seldom descend into such anarchy. He's begun an interesting journey. His politics may, or may not, mirror my own. I just hope he has the capacity to be a part of the dialogue and never be swayed by the evil intentions of those who manipulate those who were never thought to think for themselves.
Raising children to be critically aware citizens isn't just good for them, it's a gift we give the world. I would rather there be protesters on Wall Street than mindless followers who let another economic collapse occur because of the greed of bankers. But I digress. I can't help it. The radio is on next to me and I'm getting upset. Where are my children when I need them to listen to me? Hopefully, on the front lines of the next social movement.